3.4 Plan for growth areas
The populations of the seven designated growth areas, on the outskirts of Melbourne are experiencing rapid population growth, encouraged by relatively affordable housing for residents.1 Including parts of Cardinia, Casey, Hume, Melton, Mitchell, Whittlesea and Wyndham local government areas, these growth areas are projected to be home to over 930,000 more people by 2036. This is roughly equivalent to adding the population of around 10 cities the size of Bendigo, and represents over 40% of projected statewide growth.2 These growing populations are often more diverse, with a higher proportion of Aboriginal Victorians and migrant communities than other parts of Victoria.
While the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily slowed population growth, many more Victorians will continue to call designated growth areas home. These extra people will require new homes, and that means building many thousands of new dwellings. Unlike in established suburbs, almost all this construction is in areas that were previously rural with little existing infrastructure and small starting populations.3
To provide residents with access to employment, services and amenities, considerable new investment is needed in many types of infrastructure, including utility connections, roads and public transport, schools, hospitals, community infrastructure and telecommunications.4
Figure 24: New growth areas grow rapidly from 2018 to 2036.
This graph shows the minimum and maximum average annual population growth rates in different parts of Melbourne and regional Victoria from 2018 to 2036, across the different population growth scenarios modelled by Infrastructure Victoria.
Governments are responsible for funding most of this infrastructure, in full or in partnership with others, and delivering it is expensive. Greenfield development infrastructure is estimated to cost the Victorian and local governments tens of billions of dollars over the next two decades,5 although the exact quantum will depend on how quickly these areas are settled. As the single greatest expense, transport requirements are likely to account for over half this amount.6
On average, the Victorian Government spends about $50,000, and local councils $38,000, on infrastructure to support each new home in Melbourne’s growth areas.7 This is significantly more than the norm in established suburbs where up to 80% of new homes have been built.8
Building non-transport infrastructure for extra homes in new estates is typically around two to four times more expensive than in established areas, where existing infrastructure has the capacity to support development.9 Developer contributions in new growth areas averaging around $23,000 for each home assist, but neither level of government recovers the full cost of infrastructure provision.10 More effectively aligning infrastructure and land use planning in new growth areas would provide the Victorian Government and local councils with a more integrated and accurate view of infrastructure requirements, promote collaboration between government agencies on delivery and sequencing, support transparency, and – most important of all – help deliver better outcomes for residents and communities.
Effective alignment of land use and infrastructure planning will allow for a more integrated and accurate view of what is required to deliver better outcomes for growing communities.
Infrastructure sometimes does not meet the needs of growth area residents
While the need for infrastructure in new and developing communities is pressing, in some cases there are some types of infrastructure arriving long after they are required.11
Outer suburbs and new growth areas offer the most affordable homes to purchase, but are not necessarily affordable living because they are less connected to the rest of Melbourne and associated opportunities. These residents face more obstacles in finding jobs that suit their qualifications and can find it more difficult to access services.12 They are also more likely to be Aboriginal Victorians or from migrant communities, and the infrastructure may not meet their specific cultural and service needs.
The built form of new suburbs creates new problems for the environment and amenity, while a lack of social infrastructure can limit engagement with sport, recreation, and cultural expression.
Transport connections within growth areas, and to the rest of Melbourne, are underdeveloped, leading to congestion, high car dependence and efficient network use. Many outer suburbs do not have suitable, high capacity public transport options, with services less frequent the farther people live from the city centre, especially in the outer west and south-east.13 As many growth areas are along interstate road corridors, road congestion can also delay freight movements. Even with more Victorians working more frequently from home, transport options in growth areas remain limited.14 With few public transport options, many commuters rely on their cars, increasing congestion on underdeveloped road networks that are already under pressure. Without enough arterial roads, more people use the city’s motorway network for shorter trips, and this makes it less resilient to disruptions because motorists have few alternative routes.
Figure 25: Outer suburbs and new growth areas are projected to have lower access to jobs by public transport. This diagram shows the projected percentage of jobs accessible within 60 minutes of homes by public transport in 2036, under a lower infrastructure investment scenario using the official population distribution projection.
While the Victorian Government has committed to road projects in the growth areas and corridors,15 the forecast growth in these areas means these projects are unlikely to meet the scale of demand. New growth areas offer fewer jobs than inner and middle suburbs, even as their populations grow more quickly. Many available jobs in growth areas primarily serve local needs, such as in education, health care and retail, rather than more highly paid, specialised roles.16
While these jobs are more available in other parts of Melbourne, limited transport options to, within and from growth areas make these opportunities difficult for many to access.17 Lower job access contributes to lower labour force participation, higher unemployment and the underutilisation of workers, especially as those working in outer suburbs are more likely to be overqualified for their jobs than residents elsewhere in the city.18
Figure 26: Outer suburbs and new growth areas are projected to have lower access to jobs by private vehicles. This map shows the percentage of jobs in Greater Melbourne that can be accessed within 30 minutes by private vehicles in 2036, under a lower infrastructure investment scenario using the official population distribution projection.
Converting land from agriculture and other uses contributes to habitat loss and biodiversity decline, as paddocks and grassland are turned from natural environments into roads, buildings and other development.19 Small lot sizes and residents’ preferences for large homes means a lot of residential land in growth areas are covered by detached houses, driveways and other constructed surfaces – particularly in Melbourne’s north and west.20 These leave little space for vegetation, including canopy trees, on private property and may limit opportunities for future land use change.21 Growth areas are particularly vulnerable to heat, but have fewer trees to provide shade and support evaporative cooling.22 More vegetation on public and private land would help reduce water run off, air pollution and ultraviolet radiation,23 and encourage
biodiversity, active transport and neighbourhood amenity. Like all Victorians, residents of growth areas also have a right to expect social infrastructure that meets their health, education, sport and recreation needs, but many rapidly growing areas lack sufficient social infrastructure to meet demand. This will require new infrastructure and the better integration of social infrastructure into the planning of new suburbs. In some cases, only minor changes would be required to allow existing facilities to provide multiple services, or to deliver infrastructure in a way that supports joint use. For example, there is potential to leverage the Victorian Government’s delivery of many new schools in growth areas, including the shared community use of competition-sized sports courts provided in all new schools.
Better planning can help provide the right infrastructure, at the right time
A unique opportunity exists to build modern and better integrated infrastructure that can meet the needs of rapidly growing and diverse communities in growth areas, but planning infrastructure for new suburbs on the urban fringe is complex. The Victorian Government, local governments, landowners, private developers, utility companies, service providers and other stakeholders must collaborate to promptly deliver the infrastructure communities need.24 To guide the process, the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA) coordinates the development of Precinct Structure Plans (PSPs) for new growth area suburbs. Each PSP covers an area expecting up to 30,000 residents and as many as 10,000 jobs, and considers infrastructure needs including roads, schools, shops, parks, transport and services.25 In so doing, the PSP process aims to encourage more integrated decisions about land use patterns, transport, the environment and other investments.26 The PSP process encourages forward planning, but it is not flawless. While the VPA can encourage cooperation, no one entity is responsible for providing leadership or is accountable for the delivery of timely infrastructure and services.27 Individual government agencies can choose the extent to which they include their own infrastructure and service planning in PSPs. Utility providers undertake their infrastructure planning on fixed, three to five-year time horizons, and their budgets are not coordinated with the PSP process. This means the Victorian Government can find it difficult to deliver infrastructure and services in a timely, coordinated sequence.28 Future governance arrangements could provide greater clarity on stakeholder responsibilities and support monitoring that identifies gaps and systemic issues. Clearer policy direction would also support government agencies, councils, the private sector and local communities to make complementary investments.
Overall, a more collaborative approach would better support people, businesses, utility companies and service providers in growth areas, helping to drive productivity, enhance social benefits and improve environmental outcomes.
Transport is the most expensive element of infrastructure provision in new growth areas. No single intervention will address all transport challenges in these areas, but careful investment can better connect residents in new outer suburbs with jobs, education and services. New road links and upgrades can help keep traffic moving and provide a foundation for high quality bus, cycling and walking networks.29 Buses can be rapidly deployed to provide flexible, inexpensive services to growing populations, helping prevent ‘locked in’ car travel patterns, and complementing the other public transport modes in the long term.30 Rail network upgrades can be prioritised in areas where population growth is greatest, road networks are underdeveloped and access to existing train services is difficult – as is the case in Melbourne’s outer north and south-east.31
Planning and delivering social infrastructure within walking distance of the Principal Public Transport Network would also help achieve the Plan Melbourne goal of ’20-minute neighbourhoods’ in which people are able to meet most of their daily needs within a short walk from home.
Feasibility studies and business cases should continue to assess the economic, social and environmental impact of different options and an effective and efficient sequencing of investment. Transport modes, routes and infrastructure should continue to evolve with the communities they support. Reserving land for future transport corridors can also save time, complexity and money in the long-term, and support the development of more sustainable new communities.32
Recommendations to improve planning for growth areas
Infrastructure Victoria makes the following recommendations to improve planning for growth areas. These build on recommendations relevant elsewhere in this strategy, and would be most effective if complemented by a more integrated approach to land use and infrastructure (see section 2.1)